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Choreographer Helanius Wilkins Talks POP!, Musical Theater, What’s Next

by Borderstan.com — August 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm 0

From Cecile Oreste of danceDC

Helanius J. Wilkins, Tim Coburn)

Helanius J. Wilkins. (Tim Coburn)

According to Studio Theatre, POP! is “a musical murder-mystery extravaganza that peeks inside the tumultuous artistic revelry of Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory.” Currently playing at the 14th Street NW theater until August 14, this Helen Hayes Awards Recommended production is directed by Keith Alan Baker, Hunter Styles and Jennifer Harris with choreography from Helanius J. Wilkins.

We caught up with Wilkins, Founder and Artistic Director of EDGEWORKS Dance Theater, to learn more about his role in POP!

Borderstan: How did you get involved with POP!?

Wilkins: This production marks my sophomore effort in musical theatre. I was invited to be the choreographer for POP! following my wildly successful and critically-acclaimed choreography for the Studio Theatre’s 2010 summer musical, Passing Strange.

Borderstan: Why did you want to be part of this production?

Wilkins: Part of the final decision to work on this production came down to being intrigued by the idea of working on a project that is far different from the kinds of projects I generally work on. Being pulled out of your comfort zone often proves to be a wonderful opportunity for learning more about one’s self and growing. I welcomed the challenges that were being presented to me through this project.

Borderstan: Tell us about your choreography in POP!

Tom, Story, Pop!, Scott Suchman

Tom Story in “Pop!” (Scott Suchman)

Wilkins: The choreography for POP! reminds me of a jambalaya — a Creole dish of rice with a mixture of meats and spices. It has everything and the kitchen sink mixed in to match the eclectic music score — a score that ranges from rock to pop to country to opera. Structurally, the dance numbers tend to take on circular patterns that are paired nicely for the oval-shaped stage. Gestured and angular, mostly two-dimensional, movements erupt like mini-tangents out of undulating configurations in space. The style of music and specific scene environments often serve as a direct influence to the incorporation of choreography that include movements reminiscent of line dancing and tap, among others.

A sharp contrast to the general overtone of the choreography occurs in a scene titled “Expression!” In this scene, a trio of actors cut across the rounded space, forming a strong diagonal line. The sequencing of their movements only allows for a series of up and down, and forward and back patterns — cancelling out the sense of the curve. It is also near this point that a big transition takes place in POP!, creating a shift in the tone of the musical. It dives into a darker side and leaves the more glamorous side of it all.

The standouts to me are “Big Gun,” “Money” and “The St. Vitus Dance.” These dances are filled with high energy and showcase a vivid imagination. Although seen many times before, there is something fresh and fun in “99 Superstars” in which Ondine and Gerard dance a waltz. Hand in hand these two male characters glide their way across the stage. There are nearly 12 additional dances that are good in design and solidify a recurring theme.

Borderstan: What was your choreographic process? How did you prepare for the show?

Wilkins: It is very different working on a musical versus working on a project for a dance concert. For starters, rather than being the visionary of the overall project, I am a designer/collaborator contributing my expertise to bring the greater vision to life. My choreographic process involved becoming familiar with the range of music, getting a clear sense of the vision of the directors for the various scenes, being extremely flexible and working closely with MaryLee Adams, my assistant choreographer and production dance captain, to flesh out my ideas before teaching to the cast.

Borderstan: What’s next for you?

Wilkins: I’m still craving a much needed break! LOL! In the immediate time, I am currently enjoying a one-week residency in Cleveland, Ohio where I am a master teacher for a Summer Dance Workshop. Also, EDGEWORKS will be among the companies performing on the National Mall for National Dance Day on July 30. A duet excerpt from our “Trigger” project will be performed. Toward the end of summer, EDGEWORKS will resume rehearsing to prepare for the start of our 11th season, a season that will feature a condensed schedule with performance engagements and tours taking place in the fall/winter only.

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